Good relationships with colleagues can make going to work pleasant, even enjoyable. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true: Having coworkers you dislike (or who dislike you) can mean experiencing annoyance, anxiety and/or a host of other negative emotions eight to nine hours a day, five days a week.
Getting off on the right foot at a new job, then, is important -- but it doesn't mean all hope is lost if you're already at a company or organization and haven't yet managed to form solid bonds with your coworkers, because it's never too late to lay the groundwork for good relationships at work. Here, we share our top six ways to help create office friendships that will make your workplace a more effective one overall.
1. Reserve judgment
Even if you've been in your current job for years and are certain that one coworker has never liked you, consider giving them the benefit of the doubt and redoubling efforts to create a positive bond between the two of you. Why? You may have misread them. If they've never struck up a conversation with you or don't make much eye contact, for example, and you've taken that to mean they have no interest in speaking to you, think again.
What we perceive as arrogance or rudeness in someone is very often just shyness. So try to find another way in with that person at work. Start by asking a trusted colleague or existing work friend about them -- are they avid downhill skiers? Did they just have a new baby? Do they do jiu-jitsu? Use your new knowledge to strike up a conversation the next time you're in the elevator or break room with them, and see where it takes you.
2. Say yes
Shyness isn't the only trait than can be interpreted as arrogance or snobbery. Continually turning down invitations to go out after work or have lunch will soon mean you'll stop receiving those invitations, because coworkers may well start to think you don't like them. So even if you're an avid exerciser and you use every weekday minute between noon and 1 PM to work out, skip the gym occasionally if you get a lunch invite with colleagues. It's an opportunity to learn a bit about them, away from the office, and you'd be surprised how a change in atmosphere can make people open up.
This doesn't mean, of course, that you have to go to every happy hour or trivia night you're invited to. But showing up at an event every few weeks and engaging in the group conversation will go a long way toward letting people get to know you and letting you get to know them.
3. Make the first move
Particularly if you've been reluctant to accept many outing invitations in the past, spearheading your own effort to get a group together to do something after work tells colleagues you are, in fact, approachable and open to new friendships. So invite a group out for a 5 PM drink on a day you don't have evening commitments (or can get childcare or pet coverage). And while you're at it, invite the boss. After all, savvy managers will appreciate the fact that employees who have friends at work are more productive at their jobs.
4. Keep it professional
We all know people who have met their significant others in the workplace, and it's great when those relationships work out. However, for every marriage made in the office, there are probably 10 workplace romances that went sour -- or were frowned upon or disallowed by management. Many companies have policies on employee fraternization, in fact. Even if your company isn't one of them, why run the risk of having a work fling end on a bad note and then needing to work with an ex? (Or, worse, needing to leave a job you like because working with that ex is so awkward?) Generally speaking, it's best for all involved to err on the side of caution and keep work relationships friendly and professional.
5. Balance it out
Of course, you don't want things with your office friends to get so chummy that you let your work slide in favor of two-hour coffee gab sessions at the Starbucks down the street. Nor do you want to earn yourself the full-time attentions of the chattiest person in the office and then have to listen to lengthy, daily rundowns of how they spent the previous evening or why they don't eat gluten.
The key to avoiding these pitfalls: honesty. Not so much of it that you hurt anyone's feelings, of course, but a quick, "I really have to get this done -- it's due to the client by end of day" or "Let's grab lunch tomorrow so you can finish telling me all about it -- my treat!" should do the trick. And don't feel guilty about it. You want to make sure you strike and maintain a sustainable balance between friendship and work, and your colleagues -- even the talkative ones -- will benefit from your doing so, too.
6. Look for in-office opportunities
To collaborate, that is. While heading outside workplace walls can help relax people, teaming up with colleagues inside those walls can serve two purposes: first, creating new friendships, and later, presenting an opportunity to work on projects with friends. So the next time you're given a work assignment, find ways to bring in a colleague or colleagues you don't know well but whose expertise could be valuable. Or volunteer to be on a team that someone else is looking to fill. You could learn something new -- and make a friend or two in the process.
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